A Day In The Life Of... Concept Art

In this instalment of "A Day In the Life Of..." we spoke to nDreams Junior Concept Artist José Martins Leite about everything from Art and gaming, to moving to the UK!

What do you do?

As a Concept Artist, I create visual concepts and ideas that, after a process of iteration, end up in the game. I design everything from environments and characters to weapons, vehicles and everything in-between. Essentially, I paint and draw the world and characters of our games before they are modelled in 3D and animated.

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How do you fit into nDreams?

I work within the art department, but our studio is very collaborative, and teamwork is vital in my position. Concept art is as much about problem solving as it is about creating visually appealing ideas. I might sketch several concepts for an environment in a level, usually working in conjunction with the Designers so that I can better understand the gameplay in that specific area. That way I can transform the core gameplay aspects into ideas as to how that environment looks.

I also work very closely with the Environment Artists - they are the ones that will bring my ideas to life in the game, after all! At this stage they might require additional sketches and paintings to understand how specific objects look, how they function, what they are made of and what kind of lighting is in the environment.

All of my work always follows the guidelines created by the Art Director, who is in constant contact with every element of the Art Team so that we maintain a good coherent Art Style.

What kind of skills and experience do you need to be effective in your role?

Drawing and painting skills are an obvious necessity to effectively create Concept art, however it is just the tip of the iceberg. Many people mistake Concept Art for Illustration, thinking that because the common ground between them is painting, they can do both jobs. This is not exactly true, since Concept Art relies heavily on the ability to problem solve through images, so it is important to be able to do this also. Certain problems that exist in the development of a game require resolution through testing of several ideas, and an efficient way to do so is through Concept Art. So apart from being able to draw and paint, a Concept Artist must be capable to imagine and create new and exciting things, it is vital to keep a creative and curious attitude.

Tell us about a typical working day…

I begin the day by reviewing the list of things I need to do during that day. This means checking my email to see if I was assigned any new concept tasks or meetings for that day, or if I should continue with the work I was doing previously. Once I know what I need to do, I start to sketch and paint and I spend most of the morning doing that. My main focus at the moment is the concept art for the recently announced Phantom: Covert Ops where I’m looking at the environments, characters and vehicles.

The programme I mainly use to paint is the latest version of Adobe Photoshop and I use Wacom Cintiq, which is basically a big monitor that I draw on with a special pen.

I usually spend my lunch hour relaxing. I never eat in front of my computer because I think it’s important to take a break from it. During this time I might play a few games of pool with some of my colleagues or maybe just stay at my desk and draw in my sketchbook for practice.

The afternoon is often spent continuing the morning’s work, but I also speak to other team members to show what I’ve been working on (for example the character artist’s or the environment artist’s desk to show them what I am concepting and to discuss ideas). We also have regular concept reviews through a project which can involve the wider dev team members.

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What about an un-typical day recently?

An un-typical day in the studio would be a day where I wouldn’t paint or draw all day! We spent a day discussing ideas in meetings recently and problem-solving specific concepts with other artists and designers. This is not very common though because of course painting is a core aspect of my job...

What do you love about your job?

I love drawing and painting every day so that is my favourite part my job because it’s what I love to do… Seeing something I imagined and painted being created by the other artists and becoming part of the game is a really rewarding moment and it shows that teamwork is an important part of game-dev.

 What areas do you enjoy less?

Because I rely heavily on my drawing and painting skills, I feel less at home when I am presented with challenges that I cannot overcome with just those tools. However, I always try to find a way to resolve the problem and move forward. Even if it takes a bit of extra effort or help from a colleague, it will be an improvement of my set of skills.

How did you get started in the industry?  Why did you join nDreams?

I started working as a Freelance Fantasy Illustrator, but quickly realised I wanted to be part of something bigger. I wanted to join a team of like-minded creatives and have the chance to actively have a voice in the creative process of the development of a game. Working in a team-focused environment is something I always looked for in my professional career and I found this position at nDreams! Although this involved me relocating from Portugal, I was prepared to do this for my first in-house job in the video game industry. So far it’s been a wild ride of discovery and learning, with no sign of slowing down… From day one everyone has been super friendly, and it’s been great getting to know the team. There are a number of different cultures and nationalities in the studio and it was easy to integrate into the work flow of the studio. I am enjoying every second of it!

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Do you have any advice for people who want to do what you do?

Concept art is a very specific job, so to get the chance to do it I would give 3 pieces of advice:

  1. Be curious about everything in life. A Concept Artist draws from their life experiences and memories to problem solve and create new and interesting concepts. It is imperative that you build up an extensive visual library in your mind. To look at the world through the eyes of a child is important in order to keep that curiosity rolling. This might mean travelling, sightseeing, learning new skills, meeting new people, doing things you’ve never done before. Constantly ask questions and try to get into whatever is before you, drawing all of that.
  2. Make connections. Art is, as it always has been, a creative endeavour that is favoured by making good, strong professional connections. Go to workshops, join Facebook Concept Art groups, Discord Channels and join Challenges on Artstation. Get to know the big names in the industry, going beyond your favourite artists. There are huge art events that can expand your network far beyond what you thought. You never know if down the road if someone will remember you and have an opportunity for you.
  3. Draw and paint everything, everywhere, every chance you get. They are your main tools and there is always space for improvement, including learning new software and skills. It is a hard and never-ending work, so don’t lose hope. If you ever feel like you’re about to give up, then just draw some more!